West Briton column 28 March 2013

Following the Budget last week, now is a good time to take a step back and look at the economic situation. In the aftermath of Labour’s debt crisis the Coalition is making progress in balancing Britain’s books- the deficit is now down by a third. The Government is investing in our country’s future, so the sacrifices being made now as peoples incomes are squeezed, will enable a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

However, the progress towards a balanced budget and sustainable growth isn’t being achieved as fast as the Government had hoped. Labour are wrong to say that by saving money in our public services and welfare we are reducing domestic demand and stalling economic growth- since May 2010 domestic demand has actually risen 1.2% more than forecast.

Unfortunately the persistent problems in the Eurozone, the destination of 40% of our exports is the main reason for lack of growth in our economy. This export trade to Europe has reduced by 2.5%, hitting the whole economy. However, last week for the first time in decades, exports to non EU countries accounted for a greater share of our total exports. This is following a concerted effort by companies, backed by the government. Local companies tell me they are exporting more and to new markets.

For too long fuel prices were too high, acting as a crippling financial burden on small business and families alike. The Chancellor has listened to the arguments I and colleagues have been making and has now frozen fuel duty for the third year in a row. Fuel duty is now 11% lower than it would have been under Labour saving families and small businesses an average of £7 every time they fill up.

Local business will also benefit from the scrapping of the beer duty escalator, taking 1p off the price of a pint. I have been working with some of the outstanding breweries and pubs we have in Cornwall to press for this boost to an important local industry. Cornwall’s rapidly growing creative industries, especially those involved with digital technology will have access to £31 million of extra government funding to help them grow.

Good news also for local people looking to get onto the housing ladder, take the second step or live in social housing, and for the builders who will build their homes. Businesses in the construction industry, and indeed in all other sectors, will benefit from changes to National Insurance that will enable employers to hire up to four extra staff without paying any jobs tax at all.

Most importantly for me the Budget also rights an old wrong; Labour’s 2007 scrapping of the 10p income tax band. Personal income tax allowance will be increased to £10,000 next year, saving the average taxpayer £700 per year. The 2.7 million people who were in the 10p band before Labour made them pay more will now enter the 0p band- they will be taken out of income tax altogether.

New childcare support for local families

Last week I welcomed new proposals from the Government for tax-free childcare.

The proposals, contained in the 2013 Budget, would create a Tax-free Childcare scheme from 2015 worth up to £1,200 per child. To be eligible, families will have all parents in work, with each earning less than £150,000 a year. Parents will then be able to claim back 20% of their yearly childcare costs from the Government. 

Local mum Laura welcomed the proposals, saying

‘‘As a working mum from a family with a typical Cornish income I was really pleased to see the government’s announcement on childcare. After my second child was born, although I loved my managerial job I had to drop to part time hours and a different position as we were unable to afford full time preschool childcare for our boys.

‘‘These new announcements have left  my partner and I feeling optimistic about not having to worry week to week whether we can afford our childcare costs and make it much more likely I will be able to return to work full time in the future when I am ready and without feeling guilty or pressured in to doing so.’’

Local families like Laura’s have been struggling for too long with rising childcare costs and I am pleased that the Government has now put forward plans that will make a real difference.

 I will continue to remind Ministers of the need to do all we can to support hard working families during these difficult economic times, and look forward to seeing this vital new childcare scheme take shape. Further information regarding the scheme can be found through:







West Briton column 21 March 2013

The focus of my past week was apprenticeships; celebrating their successes for the individual apprentices, local employers as well as the economy. Working with employers since 2010, the Government has created more than a million new apprenticeships; 13,070 in Cornwall and over 1,880 here in my constituency. The National Apprenticeship Service local manager, Cathie Kessell, does a great job promoting apprenticeships to local employers as well as working with providers of the educational elements of apprenticeships.

I was pleased to spend time with two apprentices at Pendennis and SKB Sails as well as meeting others, including from Treliske on the Apprenticeship Bus on Lemon Quay. This is a bus that toured around Cornwall with ambassadors delivering leaflets to employers encouraging them to think about taking on an apprentice as well as answering questions from the public and potential apprentices.

During the course of the week £630,000 of additional funding was announced to enable the newly formed Cornwall Apprenticeship Agency to create 650 new apprenticeship placements in Cornwall over the next two years, many of them in the marine sector. Marine industry employers in Truro and Falmouth have a great record of providing high quality apprenticeships which have given many local people the skills they need to build successful careers – this new funding will build on this success.

I have always felt that a vocational career path with hands on learning alongside studying for qualifications should have the same social status as going to university. I am pleased that there are now two paths for young people to choose that both offer high quality learning opportunities and good job prospects. I also think apprenticeships have a very important role in this Government’s plan to rebalance the economy away from dependence upon financial service industries concentrated in the South East of England, to sustainable jobs all around the UK; growing more food, generating more energy and making more things for us to buy and export around the world. Apprenticeships are filling the skilled jobs so many local businesses tell me they need to grow.

With its policy of uncontrolled immigration, the last Labour Government let youth unemployment grow hugely. I am pleased through our concerted effort it is beginning to fall. Over one million new jobs in businesses large and small have been created since 2010.

Sadly but inevitably, with so much investment in apprenticeships, a few training companies have spotted an opportunity to rip off employers. I am very grateful to a local company who informed me that they had been approached by a training company with an offer of free training for their existing staff. It turned out not to be the training promised, rather a rebadged apprenticeship. While apprenticeships are available to existing and older employees this training was mis-sold. The company offering the training has been warned. Following an investigation, if found guilty their ability to provide apprenticeships will be removed. It is essential that all apprenticeships for people of any age are providing high quality skills training.

West Briton column 14 March 2013

More than any other person William Beveridge’s name is associated with the blueprint for the Welfare State with the vital aims of slaying the giants of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.

Like many families we are preparing for GCSEs. With the assistance of BBC Bitesize we are helping our son with his history revision. On the subject of the Welfare State the BBC says ” the post war Labour government is sometimes given too much credit with bringing in the welfare state into being and credit ought to be given to the wartime Coalition Government which consisted mostly of Conservatives.”

Today the Coalition’s reform of benefits for working aged people are portrayed by opponents as destroying the Welfare State. I believe the reforms are returning us to founding principles- that education and employment are the double edged sword in the hand of society as it fights to slay Beveridge’s giants.

For working aged people who are able to work, the reforms will take us back to a simple principle that being in work should always pay. Seventy years on from Beveridge our benefits system has lost its way, miring people in a maze of benefit payments that often hinders rather than helps people to realise their potential through employment.

Our fragmented and confusing system means that very few people are confidently able to predict the effect on their household income of taking up a job or increasing their hours and know that there is a good chance that working more hours will see their income actually fall as there are cliff edges within the system as benefit is withdrawn.

Universal Credit will tackle this. A range of different benefits that currently exist will be brought together into one Universal Credit payment and every person on Universal Credit will know that by working, their income will always go up and will be able to calculate easily by how much.

The Department for Work and Pensions predict that these reforms will allow around 300,000 people to move into work, in the sure knowledge that their income will actually increase. As a result, three million of lowest-income households in the UK will get a monthly boost to their income of around £170.

People living with disabilities are being given particular support within the new system- for the first time an individual registered as disabled who are able to will be able to earn over £7000 a year through part time work, without any effect on their benefit entitlement.

The Government also recognise that reform on this scale needs to be gradually introduced, to allow any kinks to be straightened out, and to make sure people are fully informed about the changes taking place and supported through the process. Following pathfinder pilots taking place this summer, Universal Credit will be gradually phased in between October 2013 and the end of 2017.

I will continue to do all I can to help ensure that these reforms change the lives of all those affected for the better.

New Vessel Designed by Falmouth-based Mojo Maritime

I am absolutely delighted that Falmouth-based company Mojo Maritime is leading the way in developing new ships for hydrodynamic work at sea.

The HiFlo-4 Installation Vessel (HF4) will be capable of laying underwater foundations, cables and turbines in all types of weather conditions.

I am immensely proud of Mojo’s fantastic work and pleased to see that once again Cornwall is at the forefront of such innovation.

Click to access hiflo-4_press_release_march_2013.pdf